GREY AREA JJ Grey and Mofro

 

With a new album in
stores and a new tour just underway, the Florida
swamp-rockers have their mofro, er, mojo workin’ once again.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

In JJ Grey’s Mofro cosmos, everything is what it is and
comes on its own loose, funky schedule. It ought to; Grey’s music is free and
easy. The most common metaphor used to describe it is the front porch, where
folks sip iced tea or whiskey and tell lies none of their fellow porch sitters
will call lies, and all-including a background chorus of frogs and crickets – agree
would make a fine Faulkner or Crews novel. That’s as analytical as they get,
and Grey likes to look at himself the same way, whether or not he has a new
joint to plug.

 

“If you look at yourself in the mirror [today],” he says in
a Floridian drawl, “and you see yourself three years later, you still look the
same. People say, ‘Oh my gosh you’ve changed so much!’ Shit, I can’t tell… I
don’t really notice it.”

 

Although JJ Grey and Mofro have their fifth album, Georgia Warhorse (Alligator), in stores
now, little has changed besides the men that make up Mofro. In fact, other than
Grey and good buddy, guitarist Daryl Hance, the lineup remains dynamic even as
their signature casual swamp-funk stays the same. And while Grey called 2008’s Orange Blossom the album he wanted to
make eight years ago (when Mofro proffered its debut, Black Water, on Fog City Records), “I feel pretty much the same way
about every record.”

 

The key, he figures, is that loose vibe. As long as nothing
gets too serious, the music will flow.

 

“The longer I go, the older I get, the less I try to be
clever,” Grey says. “And the more I try to stay out of my own way. I don’t try
to figure out how I’m gonna write or arrange a song. I just go to work-make
shit up.”

 

That is about the size of it. Grey says no matter the
record, it has old songs and new songs that came up while “mowin’ the grass or
drivin’ somewhere.” He carries a pocket recorder to document the song scraps
that float around his head and “then I leave them alone.” Later on, he returns
to the ideas in his little studio. “I see where it’ll lead. It might lead
nowhere. Then again, maybe it’ll lead somewhere.”

 

Typically they do arrive at a destination called done – or
as close as that gets in the Mofro cosmos. Contrary to that lax ethos, there’s
usually a bigger crowd awaiting the new stuff than there was before. They span
continents and contingents-blues fans, funk aficionados, roots music devotees
recognize an honesty in the immersive, soul-soothing music.

 

“To me, music is conversation,” says Grey. “And uh, I don’t
have to invent new words to impress anybody. I just tell a story. We’re all
usin’ the same words to tell stories-not just people writin’ music. And to me,
music is just an extension of that. It’s just more memorable because there’s a
melody.”

 

“It’s the same thing with Georgia Warhorse. I just keep observin’ and keep lettin’ things
happen. When they happen, they happen. It’s kinda hard to nail down the one
thing for sure. When I’m on a roll, I just stay out of my own way and let it
ride itself out.”

 

“Gotta Know,” a twelve-year-old track on Warhorse explains a bit more about
Grey’s mellow approach. Written when he was a “kid” into such light fare as
quantum physics, the song contemplates known knowns and unknown knowns. “When
you start talkin’ about subatomic particles, everything’s in theory.” For
example, no one has seen an electron or proton, just their effects, yet we talk
about quarks – “things that make up electrons and protons. How are you gonna
talk about something that makes up somethin’ you’ve never seen?”

 

So you see, thinking about something too much is a fool’s
game. Isn’t it best to just let nature take its course, and marvel at its
wonders? Of course the answer here is yes and no – but as far as Mofro’s music
goes, that’s a marvel that needs no scrutiny.

 

“In the end, I realized all I was lookin’ for was answers to
questions that can’t be answered. I figured it out, even as an idiotic smartass
kid – the mind can’t understand these things.”

 

JJ Grey and Mofro
kicked off their latest U.S.
tour last week and you can view the tour dates at their MySpace page.

 

[Photo Credit: Darren Jacknisky]

 

[NOTE: This story originally appeared in the June 23, 2010
edition of Salt Lake City Weekly.]

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